Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz


LEAVE IT TO CHANCE.  Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—the intrepid heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.

In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.

When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr. Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.

Del Rey (Ballantine Books) | March 5, 2013 | 352 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

A Conspiracy of Alchemists, the first book in a new steampunk series, is a fast-paced adventure set in the early 20th century of an alternate world that is divided between Light (scientific progress) and Shadow (the supernatural).  When Elle Chance, a young airship captain, is asked by an associate to transport a precious piece of cargo from France to England without notifying the authorities, she readily agrees to the favour.  But transporting the cargo proves to be more than Elle bargains for, and draws her into the dangerous world of the mysterious Hugh Marsh. When Elle's father, a renowned scientist, is kidnapped, Elle joins forces with Hugh and they immediately set out to free him.  There is more to her father's kidnapping than first appears, however, and as Elle continues her search for him she becomes deeply drawn into a developing conflict between the Light and the Shadow, a conflict in which she seems fated to play a central part.  

One of the things I liked best about this novel is that the heroine, Elle, is characterized as a smart, independent and capable woman, one who isn't afraid to flout societal expectations.  I also enjoyed that much about Hugh remained a mystery in this novel, and liked that Schwarz slowly reveals the many sides to him as the story unfolds and as his relationship with Elle deepens.  I also think Schwarz does a nice job developing the romantic subplot, even though it is obvious at the start of the novel who Elle's love interest is going to be.  I find the idea of a world divided between Shadow and Light  an interesting premise for a steampunk novel.   However, I think the conflict between the two could have been fleshed out a little better and additional background on the key characters driving it would have been beneficial.       

Overall, A Conspiracy of Alchemists is an enjoyable novel, one that should appeal to fans of  steampunk, as well as to readers interested in giving the genre a try but are unsure of where to start.  I look forward to reading the next installment in the series, A Clockwork Heart

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell


To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom.

Thomas & Mercer | January 22, 2013 | 390 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Motivated by the promise of significant financial gain, Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to join a small group of knights charged with seizing Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and delivering him to the King.  Much to Palmer's dismay, the mission turns into a sinister one when Becket is gruesomely murdered and Theodosia, the young nun who witnessed the crime, kidnapped.  When Palmer learns the leader of his group plans to force information out of Theodosia through torture, he takes action to save her.  Working together, Benedict and Theodosia must solve the mystery behind Becket's death and the secret that Theodosia unknowingly carries, all the while staying one step ahead of the remaining group of knights, who will stop at nothing to get Theodosia back.

Although The Fifth Knight started off a little slowly, once Benedict and Theodosia escape from her kidnappers the narrative unfolds quickly.  Indeed, the action in this novel is almost non-stop, which kept me eagerly turning the pages. While I found certain aspects of the plot to be implausible - Theodosia's secret, for example, as well as the uncanny ability of Benedict and Theodosia to get themselves out of tricky situations often using nothing more than their wits - I was nevertheless completely engaged in the story.  Benedict and Theodosia are unlikely heroes and I enjoyed how their characters and relationship evolve over the course of the novel.  The book's primary villain is truly despicable, making it very easy for the reader to root against him.   I think Powell does a nice job with the novel's minor characters, many of whom play only a small part in the narrative but make a memorable impression nevertheless.   

Overall, The Fifth Knight is an enjoyable read, one that is sure to appeal to fans of historical thrillers and/or readers interested in a different take on Thomas Becket's murder.   I look forward to hearing more from E.M. Powell. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of E.M. Powell's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

E.M. Powell and The Fifth Knight are currently on tour.   Click here to view the tour schedule. 

About the Author

E. M. Powell was born and raised in Ireland, a descendant of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins. At University College, Cork, she discovered a love of Anglo-Saxon and medieval English during her study of literature and geography. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Manchester Irish Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and International Thriller Writers. A reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, she lives today in Manchester, England, with her husband and daughter.

For more information please visit E.M. Powell's webpage and blog

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Darlings by Cristina Alger


A sophisticated page-turner about a wealthy New York family embroiled in a financial scandal with cataclysmic consequences.

Now that he's married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul's luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger's glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Penguin Books | 25 December 2012 (Trade Paperback)

My Review

4 Stars

Set in New York City at the height of the financial crisis, The Darlings is the story of a wealthy American family.  After the firm he works for is brought down during the Wall Street meltdown, Paul Ross accepts the position of general counsel at the financial firm headed by his father-in-law, Carter Darling.  While other firms are struggling to stay alive, Darling's business has weathered the financial crisis relatively unscathed and Paul is happy to be employed by a stable company.  It is not long after he starts his new position, however, that Paul and the Darling's worlds are threatened with collapse.  The tragic actions of Carter Darling's closest friend and business associate serves to throw the Darlings into the media and regulatory spotlight.  Paul soon learns that the SEC has been investigating the firm's most significant partner fund and finds out the truth about what's really been going on there.  Despite this knowledge, Paul is torn over what to do as joining forces with the SEC investigators would mean betraying his wife's family and the company for which he works.

The Darlings is a well-written, fast-paced and engaging novel, one that is guaranteed to evoke a lot of emotion from the reader.  At the novel's outset I had quite a bit of sympathy for both Paul Ross and Carter Darling, neither of whom appear to have had anything to do with the actions of their associates yet would seemingly be brought down by them anyway.  As the story unfolds, however, my sympathy turned to disappointment with Paul and anger towards Carter.  Despite the fact that their investors face losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, doing what's right because it is the proper thing to do never seems to factor into either man's decision-making process.  Both men are really only interested in saving themselves and their families. While this is understandable, the fact that so many other families stand to be ruined simply because they placed their trust in the wrong financial firm negates any sympathy I might have otherwise had for Paul Ross and the Darlings.  The only characters who are portrayed as wanting to do the right thing are the SEC investigators, and seeing how their efforts are continually stifled by their own management was maddening to read.   The elements of the narrative that stir up the most emotion, however, are those that detail the despicable steps some were willing to take to keep the wrongdoing hidden and to discredit those trying to bring it to light.   I found this aspect of the storyline to be infuriating.  Indeed, it's been a long time since I've read a novel that evoked such strong emotion in me.   I'm looking forward to reading more from Cristina Alger. 

The Darlings is recommended to fans of contemporary novels, especially those interested in a fictional account of the financial crisis.  

Note:  I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Talk: Blog Content and Features

It's time for Book Talk, a Confessions of an Avid Reader weekly feature that offers a forum in which to discuss book-related issues and topics.  Rather than introduce a specific book-related topic for discussion this week, I'm going to change things up a little and talk about book blogging instead.  

This blog will be undergoing a facelift in the not so distant future.  To coincide with the launch of my blog's new look I'd like to introduce some new features and content, as well as re-evaluate the continued utility of some of my current features.  Before deciding what new features and content to try out and what old ones to potentially say good-bye to, I thought it would be worthwhile to solicit feedback from fellow book bloggers and blog followers.  As such, I'd like to know what book blog features/content you most enjoy seeing and what makes you return to particular blogs again and again.  As such, I'm interested in your thoughts on the following:

  • Do you prefer blogs with content mostly focused on reviews, or do you prefer blogs with a mix of reviews, memes, and discussion topics?   
  • Do you prefer blogs that review and discuss a variety of genres, or do you prefer to follow blogs that focus on one or two specific genres such as historical fiction?
  • Do you participate in any weekly memes?  If so, which ones?  Do you find your participation in them generates significant interest in your blog?
  • Do you enjoy reading author guest posts and/or interviews? 
  • When it comes to your own blogs, what types of posts are most popular with your followers?  
  • Do you have any tips for generating more interest in your blog?  

Any other random book blogging thoughts are welcome :-)

Book Review: Flesh by Khanh Ha


The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai's entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledging his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew--his father. Through this story of revenge is woven another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author's writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts.

Black Heron Press | June 15, 2012 | 368 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Flesh, the debut novel from author Khanh Ha, tells the story of Tai, an Annamese adolescent.  At the novel's outset, Tai witnesses the execution of his father for banditry.  Set at the end of the 19th century in the north of Annam (now part of Vietnam), Tai sets out on a quest to recover his father's head for proper burial.  While on this quest Tai meets a stranger - Mr. Đinh Hòa - who will be the instrument for tremendous change in his young life.  Moving to Hanoi to work for Mr. Đinh Hòa, Tai encounters some of the seedier aspects of city life, yet he also experiences love, friendship and hope.
The greatest strength of Flesh is its beautiful prose.  Ha has a lovely way with words, and his eloquent descriptions help to paint a vivid picture of life in turn of the century Hanoi and its surrounding villages.  Tai is a young man who will fascinate readers. Although there are many times throughout the novel where Tai finds himself getting into some sort of trouble, his reasons for doing so are always noble.  The colourful supporting cast is equally intriguing, and each secondary character serves, in one way or another, to facilitate Tai's growth.  The love story that runs throughout the second half of the novel is beautifully drawn, helping the reader to forget that there is a dark side to Tai's story.  While I was captivated by the author's prose from the outset, I found the early chapters slow going.  Once the narrative shifts to Hanoi, however, the plot gains momentum and carries the reader to an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.  

Flesh is recommended to readers who enjoy literary historical fiction, as well as historical fiction set in Asia. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of Khanh Ha's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Flesh is on tour.  You can check out the tour schedule by clicking here 

About the Author

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories, which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He studied Journalism at Ohio University and learned the craft of writing under Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon) and Walter Tevis (The Man Who Fell to Earth).  FLESH (Black Heron Press, June 2012) is his first novel (literary fiction).

For more information, please visit Khanh Ha's WEBSITE and BLOG

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: Bristol House by Beverly Swerling


In the tradition of Kate Mosse, a swiftly-paced mystery that stretches from modern London to Tudor England

In modern-day London, architectural historian and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall hopes to turn her life around and restart her career by locating several long-missing pieces of ancient Judaica. Geoff Harris, an investigative reporter, is soon drawn into her quest, both by romantic interest and suspicions about the head of the Shalom Foundation, the organization sponsoring her work. He’s also a dead ringer for the ghost of a monk Annie believes she has seen at the flat she is subletting in Bristol House.

In 1535, Tudor London is a very different city, one in which monks are being executed by Henry VIII and Jews are banished. In this treacherous environment of religious persecution, Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk, and a goldsmith known as the Jew of Holborn must navigate a shadowy world of intrigue involving Thomas Cromwell, Jewish treasure, and sexual secrets. Their struggles shed light on the mysteries Annie and Geoff aim to puzzle out—at their own peril.

This riveting dual-period narrative seamlessly blends a haunting supernatural thriller with vivid historical fiction. Beverly Swerling, widely acclaimed for her City of Dreams series, delivers a bewitching and epic story of a historian and a monk, half a millennium apart, whose destinies are on a collision course.

Viking Adult | April 4, 2013 | 416 pages

My Review

4 Stars

When architectural historian Annie Kendall is employed by the Shalom Foundation to locate missing pieces of ancient Judiaca believed to be in London, she hopes the job opportunity will help to both kick-start her fledgling career and get her life back on track.  Almost from the moment of her arrival in London, however, Annie comes to realize that she may be in for more than she bargained for as the flat she has sublet at Bristol House is also home to the ghost of a 16th century Carthusian monk.  Annie recognizes that rather than meaning to harm or frighten her the ghost is trying to tell her something, only she is not sure what.  Joining forces with Annie is investigative reporter Geoff Harris, who is determined to find concrete evidence showing that there is much more to the Shalom Foundation and its chairman, Philip Weinraub, than meets the eye.  Complimenting Annie and Geoff's 21st century narrative is the 16th century narrative of Dom Justin, the Carthusian monk who has been haunting Bristol House, and the Jew of Holborn, a London goldsmith who must keep his religion hidden.  The historical narrative helps to shed light on the origins of Annie's quest, as well as highlights the religious upheavals that defined Henry VIII's later reign. 

Although a dual-time narrative, the focus of Bristol House is largely on the present-day storyline.  This narrative is fast-paced, engaging and held my interest throughout. While I'm generally not a fan of the inclusion of supernatural elements in an otherwise non-supernatural book, I think Swerling has done a nice job of incorporating the ghost of Dom Justin into the story, as it never felt forced or implausible.  Given Annie and Geoff's storyline comprises the bulk of the novel, it is not surprising that their characters are much better developed than those featured in the historical narrative.  I took to Geoff's character right away, but despite Annie's character being well-fleshed out, I initially found her difficult to relate to.  As a result, it wasn't until close to the end of the novel that I started to like her and her budding relationship with Geoff.  The supporting characters in this novel are superb, especially Geoff's mother, Maggie, and their family friend, Rabbi Cohen.  I would love to read a novel featuring Maggie and Rabbi Cohen in their younger years.   

While I enjoyed the modern-day narrative tremendously, I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the historical storyline.   I found the early parts of this narrative to be rather slow and the characters to be a little flat.  The narrative does pick up once the Jew of Holborn starts making more regular appearances, and at this point the historical component becomes much more interesting.   It is also at this point of the novel that the linkages to the modern-day storyline become apparent.  I also enjoyed how Swerling links Thomas Cromwell into the story, although I would have preferred to see this aspect of the narrative further developed.    

Overall, Bristol House is an entertaining novel that is sure to appeal to fans of both modern-day thrillers and historical fiction.  Bristol House is the first of Beverly Swerling's novels that I've had the pleasure of reading and I'm looking forward to reading her earlier books.  

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sourcebooks Promotion to Celebrate the Release of James Forrester's Roots of Betrayal

In celebration of the upcoming release of The Roots of Betrayal, the second novel in author James Forrester's Clarenceux Trilogy, Sourcebooks is offering a free e-copy of the trilogy's first book, Sacred Treason, to anyone who pre-orders Roots of Betrayal between now and April 30th, 2013.   To qualify for this special e-book promotion all you need to do is email your proof of pre-order to anytime in April.  Sourcebooks will then provide you with a special code you can use to download Sacred Treason from their website for free.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that allows bloggers to share the books that arrived in their mailbox over the past week.   Mailbox Monday is being hosted in the month of April by Mari at Mari Reads

I haven't posted a Mailbox Monday post in several weeks, but since I've been acquiring books like crazy over the past few weeks I thought it was a good time to jump back into this meme :-)

 Received for Review:

Red Joan by Jennie Roonie

Joan’s voice is almost a whisper. ‘Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we

Joan Stanley has a secret.

For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and watercolour classes. Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door. . .

weren’t allowed to.’
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity, and marks Jessica Brockmole as a stunning new literary voice.

The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis

From Jeanne Kalogridis, the bestselling author of The Borgia Bride and The Scarlet Contessa, comes a tale of love, loss and treachery set during the perilous days of the Spanish Inquisition

1481 Seville: The Inquisition makes its first appearance in Spain.  Its target: conversos, Christians of Jewish descent—specifically those who practice Judaism secretly in their homes. The penalty for “crypto-Judaism”: Burning at the stake.

Marisol Garcia, a young conversa, is hurriedly wed to Gabriel, a civil lawyer working for the Inquisition, in hopes that he will protect her. But she still yearns for the childhood love who abandoned her four years earlier, and she’s shocked when he reappears suddenly at her wedding.

When her father is arrested and tortured, Marisol finds herself caught between her love for him and her desire to save the lives of her people. After becoming a favorite of the ruthless Queen Isabella, Marisol discovers a dangerous secret about her former lover, Antonio, and finds herself trapped in a life-threatening web of intrigue. As the Inquisition’s snares tighten around her, Marisol’s love for Antonio and loyalty to her Jewish family is tested as never before…

The Inquisitor’s Wife reveals the real motivation behind the Inquisition, a frank glance at a “saintly” queen, and the struggles of a maligned people against crushing forces.

The Fifth Knight by Elaine Powell

To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom. 


The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman

In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Lighthouse Bay in Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne—escaping her loveless marriage and the devastating loss of her son—who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. Suddenly, this gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family.

One hundred years later, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay. Living in the cottage that was purchased by her recently passed lover, she hopes to heal her broken heart and reconcile with her sister, Juliet. Libby did something so unforgivable twenty years ago, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again.

In this adventurous love story spanning centuries, both Isabella and Libby must learn that letting go of the past is the only way to move into the future.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

 Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

Both an exploration of character and a reflection on the meaning of history, Memoirs of Hadrian has received international acclaim since its first publication in France in 1951. In it, Marguerite Yourcenar reimagines the Emperor Hadrian's arduous boyhood, his triumphs and reversals, and finally, as emperor, his gradual reordering of a war-torn world, writing with the imaginative insight of a great writer of the twentieth century while crafting a prose style as elegant and precise as those of the Latin stylists of Hadrian's own era.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

From the author of one of the biggest-selling history books of recent years, the follow-up to The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. The past is a foreign country -- this is your guide.

We think of Queen Elizabeth I as 'Gloriana': the most powerful English woman in history. We think of her reign (1558-1603) as a golden age of maritime heroes, like Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Francis Drake, and of great writers, such as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. But what was it actually like to live in Elizabethan England? If you could travel to the past and walk the streets of London in the 1590s, where would you stay? What would you eat? What would you wear? Would you really have a sense of it being a glorious age? And if so, how would that glory sit alongside the vagrants, diseases, violence, sexism and famine of the time?

In this book Ian Mortimer answers the key questions that a prospective traveller to late sixteenth-century England would ask. Applying the groundbreaking approach he pioneered in his bestselling Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, the Elizabethan world unfolds around the reader.

He shows a society making great discoveries and winning military victories and yet at the same time being troubled by its new-found awareness. It is a country in which life expectancy at birth is in the early thirties, people still starve to death and Catholics are persecuted for their faith. Yet it produces some of the finest writing in the English language and some of the most magnificent architecture, and sees Elizabeth's subjects settle in America and circumnavigate the globe. Welcome to a country that is, in all its contradictions, the very crucible of the modern world.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman has brought to life again the people and events that led up to Worl War I. With attention to fascinating detail, and an intense knowledge of her subject and its characters, Ms. Tuchman reveals, for the first time, just how the war started, why, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. A classic historical survey of a time and a people we all need to know more about, THE GUNS OF AUGUST will not be forgotten.

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara W. Tuchman

The fateful quarter-century leading up to the World War I was a time when the world of Privilege still existed in Olympian luxury and the world of Protest was heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate. The age was the climax of a century of the most accelerated rate of change in history, a cataclysmic shaping of destiny.

In The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman concentrates on society rather than the state. With an artist's selectivity, Tuchman bings to vivid life the people, places, and events that shaped the years leading up to the Great War: the Edwardian aristocracy and the end of their reign; the Anarchists of Europe and America, who voiced the protest of the oppressed; Germany, as portrayed through the figure of the self-depicted Hero, Richard Strauss; the sudden gorgeous blaze of Diaghilev's Russian Ballet and Stravinsky's music; the Dreyfus Affair; the two Peace Conferences at the Hague; and, finally, the youth, ideals, enthusiasm, and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized in the moment when the heroic Jean Jaurès was shot to death on the night the War began and an epoch ended.

That's it for me.  What books did you receive? 

Suddenly Sunday

It's time for Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Muse in the Fog Book Review that the gives bloggers the opportunity to share their blogging events from the past week. 

Happy Sunday!  I hope everyone had a great week.  It was a busy week for me outside of blogging so the blog was relatively quiet this past week, with only one review posted:

- Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage

Since I have a bit of catching up to do on the blog, look for the following reviews to be posted over the next week or two:

- A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz (I had intended to post this one a few weeks back and didn't get the chance);
- Bristol House by Beverly Swerling;
- Flesh by Khanh Ha; and
- The Darlings by Cristina Alger. 

Outside of reading I've been enjoying the arrival of Spring, although it's been chilly here the past few days, and the start of baseball season -- we are big Toronto Blue Jays fans in this house.    Reading-wise, I'm slowly tackling the pile of books I've received for review and hope to be all caught up by the end of May.  

What are you reading now? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage


Matthew Graham committed the mistake of his life when he cut off his brother’s nose.  In revenge, Luke Graham has Matthew abducted and transported to the Colony of Virginia, there to be sold as indentured labour – a death sentence more or less.

Matthew arrives in Virginia in May of 1661, and any hope he had of finding someone willing to listen to his tale of unlawful abduction is quickly extinguished. If anything Matthew’s insistence that he is an innocent man leads to him being singled out for the heaviest tasks.

Insufficient food, grueling days and the humid heat combine to wear Matthew down. With a sinking feeling he realises no one has ever survived the seven years of service – not on the plantation Suffolk Rose, not under the tender care of the overseer Dominic Jones.

Fortunately for Matthew, he has a remarkable wife, a God’s gift who has no intention of letting her husband suffer and die, and so Alex Graham sets off on a perilous journey to bring her husband home.

Alex is plagued by nightmares in which her Matthew is reduced to a wheezing wreck by his tormentors. She sits in the prow of the ship and prays for a miracle to carry her swiftly to his side, to let her hold him and heal him before it’s too late. God, however, has other things to do and what should have been a two month crossing becomes a yearlong adventure from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

Will she find him in time? And if she does, will she be capable of paying the price required to buy him free?

Troubador Publishing | December 12, 2012 | 392 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

In Like Chaff in the Wind, the second installment in Anna Belfrage's Graham Saga, opens in 17th century Scotland, with time-traveling Alex Graham settling comfortably into family life with her husband Matthew and infant son at Hillview, their beloved home.   But Alex's contentment is soon shattered when Matthew is forcibly abducted and sent to Jamestown, Virginia as an indentured servant.   Knowing the law can do little to secure her husband's release, Alex sets out for the colony determined to free him.   Forced to toil in unbearable conditions, the only thing keeping Matthew from losing all hope is his belief that Alex will come for him.   The high-seas, however, prove to be more than Alex bargained for and her arrival in Jamestown is delayed by many months.   Will Alex arrive before it is too late? 

Well-written, easy to read and fast-paced with lots of action, Like Chaff in the Wind should appeal to fans of historical adventures, historical romances and time travel stories.   One of the greatest strengths of this novel is its characters.  Alex and Matthew are well-developed, sympathetic figures and Belfrage does a good job of showing how much they love and care for one another.   Although she now lives in the 17th century, Alex's outlook on life has been shaped by the 21st century world from which she comes.   As a result, I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to and dealt with 17th century social conventions.  Matthew on the other hand is a product of the 17th century, and I appreciated that Belfrage gives him a world view consistent with the time in which he lived.  While Alex and Matthew are the focus of this novel, the supporting characters are also memorable, particularly Magnus, Alex's father who remains in the 21st century mourning the unexplained disappearance of his daughter, and Mrs. Gordon, the Graham's housekeeper who accompanies Alex on her voyage to Jamestown. 

While this novel can be read as a stand-alone, I recommend readers interested in this saga start with the first book, A Rip in the Veil.  The first novel explains to readers how Alex came to be in the 17th century in the first place, and provides the context behind the secondary story line concerning Alex's father and son that runs through this book.  As such, I think readers will get more enjoyment out of Life Chaff in the Wind if they have the background provided by the first novel. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of the author's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Like Chaff in the Wind is on tour!  Check out the tour schedule here.  
You can also follow the tour on Twitter at #ChaffintheWindVirtualTour

About the Author

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical -  both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer - or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am - I have achieved my dream.

You can visit the author's webpage at:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Giveaway Winners!

I'm pleased to announce the winners, selected using, for my two most recent giveaways are as follows:

The winner of Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent is :

Miss Fifi

The winner of Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison is:


Congratulations! An email has been sent to each of the winners.   Thanks to everyone who entered.